Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval Op.9 [23:01]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Melodie in E major Op.3/2 [3:49]
Humoresque in G major Op.10/3 [3:31]
Moment Musical in E flat minor Op 16/2 [2:55]
Prelude in G flat major Op.23/10 [3:18]
Prelude in E major Op.32/3 [2:21]
Prelude in F major Op.32/7 [2:14]
Prelude in F minor Op.32/6 [1:23]
Etude-Tableau in C major in C major Op.33/2 [2:18]
Etude-Tableau in E flat major Op.33/7 [1:49]
Daisies Op.38/3 [2:13]
Oriental Sketch [1:48]
Sergei Rachmaninov (piano)
rec. April 1929 (Schumann) and March-April 1940 (remainder)
ST-LAURENT STUDIO YSL 78-019 [50:44]

These famous recordings are part of the historical lexicon of great piano recordings, so I donít propose to comment on them but to concentrate instead on the transfers.

This French-Canadian restoration outfit has been causing me headaches in that respect. I listen to one of their CDs and itís excellent, albeit with a relatively high ratio of shellac crackle. In goes another one, of different music, and itís terrible. There are scratches, thereís blasting, the sides donít join. No wonder I squint coolly when I see a St-Laurent in the in-tray. How many copies do they work with? Probably only one. Fair enough if you only have one Ė St-Laurent isnít alone in that respect by any means - but youíre then vulnerable to heavy usage, to their ownersí use of the wrong sort of needles, to blasting and peak distortion, to pitch waver if youíre not careful and so on.

This time Iím not at all unhappy. Yes, youíll have an easier aural ride if you listen to Rachmaninovís recording of Carnaval on Naxos 8.112020 where itís coupled with Chopinís Second Sonata and third Ballade amongst other things. But it wonít be quite as immediate an aural ride. St-Laurent prides itself on the immediacy of 78 sound and this could easily be taken as code for Ďstraight transfer without any real restoration work at allí. I donít think that would be quite fair however. If you line up this disc alongside RCAís ĎComplete Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninoví set, a 10 CD box with all his recordings, both as pianist and conductor, you will find a stark difference in philosophies. Frankly RCA, like EMI in many of its GROC and other releases, needs to take a good, long hard look at itself. In the same way that EMI is content to peddle often rather unattractive old transfers in contemporary boxes Ė vinegary old wine in new bottles Ė RCA really canít be allowed any longer to keep going with its horrible over-processed and tubby transfers.

I much prefer St-Laurentís work, limitations noted, to those by RCA. The sound is far more open. Going from one to the other is like opening a sonic window on a stifling day. Yes, those who dislike 78 restorations will blanch in any case at this restoration. But they are not really the market for a disc such as this. A more amenable kind of transfer is the kind of thing Naxos Historical does, in the main. But this disc fortunately doesnít enshrine side-joins, so one can rest easy in that respect. I think St-Laurent has a considerable way to go yet to make their releases ideal for the collector. But I can say that in this release they have, at least, effortlessly outstripped RCA.

Jonathan Woolf

St-Laurent have effortlessly outstripped RCA.